Baseline to Baseline, your game recaps

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What you missed while playing with your beer bottle opening remote control

Spurs 99, Thunder 96: Learning to win is filled with hard lessons, and the Spurs have been dishing them out to the Thunder all season. These are teams on opposite trajectories, but the Spurs have things to teach the young Thunder.

The latest came in a game where it was painfully clear how much more athletic the Thunder are, and with the Spurs on the second night of a back-to-back their legs looked tired. For a stretch late in the game, the Spurs missed six of seven while Serge Ibaka was bothering Duncan and blocking everything.

I can’t really stand the “they just find a way to win” cliché, but the Spurs just do not die. They stayed in it with smart plays then Manu Ginobili got the game winning free throws by making the veteran play of driving into Ibaka and drawing the foul. Meanwhile the Thunder were making rookie mistakes like when Russell Westbrook stepped on the line trying to inbound the ball. Oklahoma City’s final shot was not a mistake, Kevin Durant drew the double and got Thabo Sefolosha got a good look. It just missed. Hard lesson.

Magic 109, Sixers 93: If you don’t close out on Orlando’s three point shooters and mean it, it will be a long night. Orlando made 16 of 31 from beyond the arc. It was interesting early because Elton Brand went all 2006 and put up 18 early points. The Magic countered with the twin towers of Howard and Gortat. Dwight Howard had a double-double by halftime with that lineup and the Magic were in control the whole way.

Heat 99, Nets 89: Would it surprise you if I said that the Nets had the lead at halftime and got blown out in the third quarter? What if I told you the Nets made a late push but Miami held them off because Wade was 9 of 13 and the Heat just had better talent and could make the plays?

Bulls 98, Rockets 88: Hustle cannot make up for terrible shooting. Chicago played pretty good defense, but Rockets just missed open looks all night long. They shot 33 percent for the game and in the first 18 minutes of second half shot 13 percent. For the Bulls right now any win is a good one.

Bucks, 98, Hawks 95: Please, please let this be the four/five matchup in the East. It would be the best first round matchup of all the playoffs. Andrew Bogut and Al Horford are just fun to watch go at each other. Or see if the Hawks can keep John Salmons from scoring 32, 16 in the final quarter (when he was the best player on the floor).

This was not Joe Johnson’s finest hour. He fouled John Salmons late, trying to deny him the ball out near midcourt (the resulting free throws put the Bucks up 97-95). At the other end the ball was in his hand and he had a little eight-foot baseline floater that normally falls but did not this time, and that was ballgame.

Raptors 106, Timberwolves 100: Defense was banned from the Target Center for this one. Toronto just happened to shoot better on the night.

Hornets 115, Mavericks 95: Dallas has lost three of four since their 13-game post-trade wining streak, and they may now be playing their way into a tough first-round matchup. This game swung on a 23-0 Hornets run from last in the second quarter over to the start of the third. Not sure what else you think you need to know, teams that give up 23-0 runs rarely win games. Marcus Thornton had 28 after being pushed into the starting lineup.

Chris Paul looked good — not quite his spectacular self yet, but not like a guy who missed 25 games after knee surgery. He had 11 points and hit three of five from three. Good for the game to have him back.  

Jazz 110, Celtics 97: Deron Williams just abused Rajon Rondo in this one. If it is possible to be an underrated star in the NBA, Williams is it. He may be the best PG in the league. The Celtics led at half but their strategy of big guys protecting the paint left Mehmet Okur a bunch of good looks from three and he hit four of six from deep and spurred some second half runs. The Jazz at home are hard to beat and the Celtics were just not up to the task.

Grizzlies 102, Kings 85: This one was pre-ordained since Sacramento was without Tyreke Evans. Credit the Kings for hanging in and leading at the half, but this was going to end poorly for them.

Suns 133, Warriors 131: Most entertaining game of the night, by a mile. This game showcased the good and the bad of the Warriors lately — they got 29 points from Reggie Williams, a guy who has been in the NBA for 12 games after spending most of the season in the D-League. But with the game close late, the Warriors were in a situation down three where they needed Monta Ellis to make the first (he did) and miss the second, and Ellis shot it long and banked it in on accident. They find the players, they can’t execute.

Anthony Tolliver got his welcome to the NBA moment from Amare Stoudemire of the Suns. A vicious dunk.

Damian Lillard reportedly playing through separated ribs suffered in Game 2

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Midway through the third quarter of Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals, Portland’s Damian Lillard and Golden State’s Kevon Looney both dove for a loose ball near midcourt. Looney got it, threw the ball ahead to Stephen Curry, and in the process rolled over Lillard.

Lillard suffered separated ribs on that play, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

Here is the play.

Lillard has shot 8-of-27 (29.6 percent) since the injury, including 5-of-18 in the Trail Blazers’ Game 3 loss.

Lillard shot 7-of-19 (36.8 percent) before the injury — the Warriors trapping him and forcing the ball out of his hands has been an issue for Lillard in this series, long before his collision with Looney.

Lillard himself did not bring the injury up, it was leaked. When asked in his postgame press conference Saturday night, Lillard admitted to being tired but would not use it as an excuse.

“Everybody’s tired,” Lillard said. “It’s the third round of the playoffs after a long season. Our last series, I got a lot of attention. The team was giving me a lot of attention and same thing in this series. It takes a lot to deal with that and then go out and chase guys around on the defensive end.

“But everybody’s putting that effort out. I mean, I feel fine enough to go out there and play 40 minutes like I have been, but you know, it’s definitely tiring.”

And he’s playing through pain on top of it.

Portland is already down 0-3 in this series and faces a win-or-it’s-over Game 4 on Monday night at the Moda Center.

Game 3 Déjà vu: Warriors slow down Lillard, come from behind to win, take 3-0 series lead

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It was Déjà vu all over again for the Warriors and Trail Blazers. And it all started with Damian Lillard.

The Warriors didn’t re-invent the wheel in this playoff series, they just have aggressively executed the game plan that has troubled Portland in the playoffs for years:

Take the ball out of Damian Lillard’s hands, dare anyone else to beat you.

Oklahoma City and Denver could not do it, but Golden State has. Every chance the Warriors get they trap Lillard off the pick-and-roll, and even when they don’t do that the Warriors show the second defender early. Lillard has struggled with his shot against that, he was 5-of-18 shooting in Game 3, and in the series he is now 15-of-46 (32.6 percent).

What Lillard is doing right is making the smart pass to the big on the short roll at the free throw line, creating a 4-on-3 (or sometimes 3-on-2) for the Trail Blazers to attack, but they have not consistently taken advantage of that.

“I think what they want me to do is make the correct play, and for me, I try to do that for as long as possible,” Lillard said. “You know, as long as I can do it and we can stay in the game or have a lead like we have the last two games when I’m just making the right plays, and guys are doing what they’re supposed to do on the weak side.

“But I think in Golden State’s minds, they know at some point, if we’re going to beat them, I’m going to have to be rolling. They are just kind of banking on the fact that we’ll just live with what’s happening right now. Keep getting the ball out of his hands and you know, at some point, we’ll probably be able to take over the game.”

Golden State did take over the game, in part bucause they have a playmaker as good as Draymond Green.

Green is the master of the short roll, and on Saturday night he was doing that, plus driving end-to-end, owning the glass, and generally being the best player on the floor on his way to 20 points on 12 shots, 13 rebounds, and 12 assists.

“I don’t even know what to say about Draymond, he was like a wrecking ball out there,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said postgame. “He was just destroying every in his path. The pace he was generating was incredible and it seemed like he never got tired.”

Green was critical to another dominant Golden State third quarter that sparked a comeback from 18 down in the third to win 110-99.

Golden State now has a stranglehold on the series, up 3-0. Game 4 is in Portland on Monday night.

The Warriors are now 4-0 without Kevin Durant, still out with a strained calf (he’s not expected to return this series). Stephen Curry, who had 36 in this win, has scored at least 33 in each of those wins.

In the most important ways, Game 3 felt like a replay of Game 2, just in a different arena.

Feeding off that home crowd and energy, the Trail Blazers raced out to an early lead and were the better team through the first 24 minutes. Portland shot 11-of-22 outside the paint in the first half, compared to 9-of-27 for Golden State. Portland had a 125.7 offensive rating in the first half thanks to that shooting, plus grabbing the offensive rebound on 34.8 percent of their missed shots.

More than the offense, Portland played good half-court defense in the first half, taking the Warriors out of their rhythm. They trapped Curry and Thompson with size — Moe Harkless and Myers Leonard if possible — and the Warriors struggled to adapt

Leonard played the best basketball of his career in the first half, with 13 points on 5-of-7 shooting (he finished with 16 points) and making plays like this:

All that had the Trail Blazers up 13 at the half. It was impressive, then again they were up 15 at the half in Game 2. The Warriors were not fazed.

“It all started with our second half defense, we held them to 33 points,” Steve Kerr said after the game. “We had amazing contributions off the bench, every single guy came in and made an impact.”

That bench mattered. The Golden State starters and core lineups got back in the game, taking a small lead, but when Green and Curry rested to start the fourth, Portland left their starters in and were still -3 in those critical minutes.

Curry and Green came in rested, and the Warriors leaned on them heavily the rest of the way with the Curry/Green pick-and-roll — Portland has no answers for that.

The Warriors run also seemed to shake the Portland offense. The Trail Blazers shot 8-of-27 (29.6 percent) from three after the first quarter, and for the game the Blazers missed 13 free throws (they shot just 60.6 percent as a team from the stripe).

Portland was led by CJ McCollum, who had 23 points on 20 shots.

He’s going to have to do better, Lillard is going to have to do a lot better, and the Blazers are going to have to find something special in the third quarter Monday night, or they will be swept right out of the playoffs.

Blazers passing impressive as they push first-half lead to double digits (VIDEO)

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Back home, the Portland Trail Blazers looked far more comfortable.

Feeding off the energy of a loud crowd at the Moda Center, the Trail Blazers stretched out to a first-half lead thanks to a level of impressive ball movement and energy we have not seen from them all series. Check it out.

This may go down as the Myers Leonard game, he had 13 points in the first half.

Portland stretched their lead to as much as 18 and was up by 13 at the half. I wouldn’t call that comfortable because, well, Golden State, but it’s the best the Blazers have played all series.

Rockets will not bring defensive coach Jeff Bzdelik back next season

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Before the All-Star break, the Rockets had a defensive rating of 112.2 (points allowed per 100 possessions), 25th in the NBA.

After the All-Star break, the Rockets had a defensive rating of 105.3, second best in the NBA. In the playoffs, the Rockets had a 107.3 defensive rating despite six games against the Warriors.

There are multiple reasons for that change, but a key one: The Rockets backed up the Brinks truck and brought assistant coach and defensive specialist Jeff Bzdelik out of retirement to help fix the problems.

Bzdelik will not be back with the team next season, reports Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle.

Technically Bzdelik was fired, although that is not an accurate description of really what happened here. This was not because of poor job performance, it was a question of if he really wanted to be there, and the Rockets wanted someone all-in. Understandably. This is a Houston team still on the cusp of a title, just one that has run headlong into the Warriors dynasty in recent years. A dynasty that likely will look a lot different next year, opening the door in the West. The Rockets want to push through that door.

That said, replacing Bzdelik will not be easy.

It’s one of a number of challenging choices for the Rockets this summer.